As an Ofsted veteran of 16 years, I’ve conducted countless inspections and attended many tribunals regarding the Early Years sector of education. So I understand your fears at the thought of an inspection. When you meet the inspector for the first time you will have things in common that will help you have a good day. There will also be things that are unusual or less compatible. How you overcome these is an important part of having a successful day. If you are over 50, have bleached hair, greying at the temples, wear spectacles and have a hearing aid you would have a lot in common with me immediately. So take time to find common ground.
Prepare for inspection. This will equip you for a smooth inspection. Keep it simple. Check out the inspection handbook, there is a list of things that the inspector has to look at and so you might want to have these readily to hand. If you want to take your preparation one step further then it’s worth looking at buying a support toolkit such as the Ofsted Preparation: Your SEF and More… from Foundation Focus.
Answer questions as they are asked. The inspector has a lot to get through in a short amount of time. Don’t try to answer all the questions you think the inspector wants to hear answers to. I worked by gathering sufficient evidence to confirm that the setting is good in a specific area and then moved on to the next part. If you are uncertain about something then tell the inspector you have to come back to that question, after all you are there firstly for the children. This will buy you time to consider your response, and not just to give the first off-the-cuff answer that springs to mind.
Don’t change anything on the day of inspection. Disaster can strike and children always give you away.
Provide evidence in support of your statements. You will have documents, photographs or physical evidence. This helps the inspector to corroborate the initial impression that the setting is at least good. The inspector wants to celebrate your success, make this as simple as possible by having considered what will provide additional evidence, over what can be observed on the day.
Take the opportunity to complete a joint observation with the inspector. This is your chance to shine. The inspector is checking how well you can reflect on, and take action on, any weaknesses you can identify. They will not use the weaknesses against you.
Be brave. Show that you have the capacity to make improvements on your own.
Don’t be defensive. It’s natural to present your pride and joy in a good light. You’re likely to feel that your reputation and livelihood is on the line. A tendency to be defensive can come across as arrogant and suggests you lack the ability to accept constructive criticism, learn and improve.
If it appears that the wrong judgement is being made, provide evidence to show you have it covered. Always show the inspector examples of your successes. Such as, how you dealt with a complaint and how you supported a family in a crisis or helped a child grow and move forward.
Check all your staff team are on message. Check their knowledge of, and implementation of, your policies and procedures. Look at the systems you use to test how well children thrive and families needs are met.
All of these changes combined with a relaxed attitude will help ensure that your Ofsted experience is a breeze.
About the author: Esther Gray
Esther is a renowned and respected expert in early years education and regulation in England. She qualified as NNEB and achieved a BTEC Level 6 in Investigative Practice, amongst others, while working for Ofsted.
For four decades she has honed and used her skills to support and advise providers of childcare and education. Until retirement from Ofsted in March 2017, Esther was focused upon the legal requirements, regulatory matters and compliance with the EYFS required by the Department for Education.